THOUSANDS of people are to lose out on discretionary medical cards – despite moves by the Cabinet to try to quell public anger at the handling of the issue.
Health Minister James Reilly is to bring a memo to government to restore the benefit to people who had a discretionary card, but lost it after the Health Service Executive (HSE) conducted its controversial review process.
The review intensified in 2013 and only ended on May 29 this year, when the Government called a halt in the wake of a public backlash in the local and European elections.
Junior Health Minister Alex White last night admitted that "a serious mistake was made by Government . . . where it was decided that there would be basically a sweep of all medical cards.
"What ought to have been picked up was a way of exempting the cards granted on a discretionary basis – because lying behind all those cards irrespective of income is a medical conditon or illness. That's the mistake that has to be rectified and I hope it can be rectified as early as this week."
But today's move will end up creating a three-tier system which will still exclude many people who are seeking a card.
Not included are:
* People who submitted first-time applications for a discretionary card since 2011 and who were turned down.
* Everyone who has applied for a discretionary card since May 29 or from now on.
They will still have to undergo the same "financial hardship" tests if they have a medical condition and are over the income limit.
A spokeswoman for the Health Service Executive (HSE) said it was assessing all applications for a medical card as normal.
Discretionary medical cards are also issued after a person with a disability or serious illness, who is over the regular income limit, has undergone an assessment of means and a financial hardship test.
A spokesman for Dr Reilly was unable to say how far back the restoration of medical cards will go, or whether it will extend to July 2011 when centralisation came into effect.
The Government is to use an administrative process to restore the cards in a bid to avoid legal knock-on effects which could lead to claims by other medical card holders who lost the benefit to get it back.
The Dail Committee on Public Accounts was told last week that almost 1,200 people have had their discretionary medical cards removed since January. Thousands more had the discretionary cards removed last year when the HSE applied a national system of assessment.
Before mid-2011 these discretionary cards were handled by local health offices, and the HSE said the criteria used was ad hoc, with some counties more generous than others.
Peter Fitzpatrick and Kevin Shortall of the campaign group Our Children's Health said that as yet they have not seen any evidence that the situation has improved for new applicants.
An expert group is drawing up a list of conditions and illnesses which would automatically qualify a person for a medical card but they are not due to report until September.